Forget Rooney and his metatarsals: England’s fragile World Cup morale is reeling from the decision to choose Embrace, those sub-Coldplay plodders, to write the team’s official song.
“World at Your Feet”, which comes out next week, is a dirge-like anthem whose air of defeatism suggests England’s fate is to be knocked out on penalties in the quarter-finals. “Yes, it can be done,” the chorus implores earnestly, though like a subconscious current of thought the melancholy music tells a different story. No, it can’t be done. Failure awaits.
“World at Your Feet” has a bromide effect. It steels the nation for inevitable disappointment and therefore inadvertently performs a useful function, preventing English blokehood from succumbing totally to football hysteria.A lame World Cup song is a reality check. A good one, such as New Order’s “World in Motion” or the Lightning Seeds’ “Three Lions”, only makes fans feel even more resentful when England crash out, with the predictable consequences of hooliganism and rioting. So let’s celebrate Embrace’s wet blanket of an anthem: it is a bulwark against delusional optimism.
It isn’t the only team song to be unintentionally revealing. Italy’s is provided by a group called Pooh, whose terrible soft-rock number “Cuore Azzurro” (“Blue Heart)” can’t disguise the stench emanating from a match-fixing scandal currently engulfing the country’s top clubs. Pooh indeed.
The Australian football team, the Socceroos, go to battle accompanied by a raucous funk-rock track “Green and Gold”, chosen by the public in a television competition, that avoids making any mention of soccer – which the failure-hating Aussies are useless at – in favour of patriotic sentiments such as “I’ll never forget my history/I’ll make my own destiny”.
As if illustrating the fact that their best players have to make a living abroad, Trinidad and Tobago outsourced their song to a pair of musicians in Leeds, who gave an intriguing insight into the creative process when they told their local newspaper that their song, a cheery soca singalong, “took us about 2½ minutes to write, then five weeks in Trinidad to record”.
The two most striking songs could not be more different in temperament. Iran’s anthem is an austere, dark composition called “Intention and Faith Are Your Pride and Fame” (try chanting that on the terraces) whose impressively doomy orchestration and melodramatically pained vocals are oddly reminiscent of Scott Walker.
Mexico’s offering in contrast is so deliriously camp it almost seems designed as a celebration of football’s latent homoeroticism. Performed by a girl group called RBD, “México, México” is a Day-Glo fusion of perky mariachi trumpets and stupefyingly catchy Euro-disco. The World Cup hasn’t seen its like since Germany’s collaboration with the Village People in 1994.
The tournament itself has chosen a deluge of desperately bland pop songs as its soundtrack. The official anthem is “A Time of Our Lives”, sung by Il Divo, the pan-global pop-opera smoothies, and Toni Braxton, the American R&B soulstress, whose joint emoting over syrupy easy-listening harmonies comes across as an appalling parody of “Nessun Dorma”. It is the musical equivalent of a handkerchief soaking up Gazza’s tears.
An official album, Voices from the Fifa World Cup, adds more slush to the pile. A compilation of non- football-related songs by performers such as R. Kelly and Dido, its purpose appears to be to culvert the passions and rivalries that the sport inspires and instead promote a mood of lachrymosity and gooey sentimentality among its fans.
Cloying songs like these enable football to portray itself as a slick, emotional form of entertainment. The sinister side of the game – malevolent tackles, cheating players, violent fans – is occluded; so too are its vigour, speed and playfulness. Football’s relationship with pop is built on denial. That’s why the music it inspires or latches on to is typically so lacklustre.
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